Getting plenty of dietary protein helps women control their body weights by helping them feel full and increasing the number of calories they burn, according to a review published in 2008 in “Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity.” Authors of this review point out that higher protein diets also help preserve lean body mass, which helps women stay tight and toned. However, although protein provides women with these benefits, getting too much dietary protein can cause negative side effects — some of which can be serious.
Women should aim to eat at least the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for protein each day. In fact, a review published in 2010 in “Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care” reports that the actual protein needs of adults are often higher than current RDAs suggest. Protein RDAs for women are set at 46 grams daily and 71 grams of protein per day during pregnancy and lactation, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Recommendations for Athletes
Female athletes often have protein needs that exceed those of sedentary women because protein helps build, maintain and repair muscle fibers after exercise. The position of the “International Society of Sports Nutrition” is that active adults require 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, equaling 0.64 to 0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. Based on this recommendation, a 130-pound woman who exercises regularly should aim for 83 to 118 grams of protein each day.
Protein is present in a variety of healthy foods, making it fairly easy for women to meet their daily protein requirements. Health protein-rich choices include legumes, nuts, seeds, soy products, egg whites, seafood, lean meats, un-breaded poultry, seitan — a form of wheat gluten — and low-fat dairy foods, such as skim milk, low-fat cottage cheese, plain nonfat Greek yogurt and reduced-fat cheeses.
Too Much Protein
Although protein is an essential nutrient that helps women maintain healthy weights and lean body mass, too much protein can be problematic. Eating excess protein in place of other essential nutrients can cause nutrients deficiencies, fatigue, dizziness and metabolic byproducts to build up in your blood. Protein toxicity also puts extra strain on your body’s kidneys and can even lead to death, according to a review published in 2006 in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.” Authors of this review suggest it’s safe to consume up to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, which equates to 1.14 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day — equaling 148 grams of protein daily for a 130-pound woman.